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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English DTS-HD 2.0 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Illustrated 2005 audio conversation between Van Sant and filmmaker Todd Haynes
  • The Making of ďMy Own Private Idaho,Ē a 2005 documentary featuring cast and crew
  • Kings of the Road, a 2005 interview with film scholar Paul Arthur on Van Sant's adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry IV and Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight
  • Conversation from 2005 between producer Laurie Parker and actor River Phoenix's sister Rain
  • Audio conversation from 2005 between writer JT Leroy and filmmaker Jonathan Caouette
  • Deleted scenes
  • Trailer

My Own Private Idaho

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Gus Van Sant
Starring: River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, James Russo, William Richert, Rodney Harvey, Flea , Udo Kier
1991 | 104 Minutes | Licensor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #277
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: October 6, 2015
Review Date: October 6, 2015

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SYNOPSIS

River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves star in this haunting tale from Gus Van Sant, about two young street hustlers: Mike Waters, a sensitive narco≠leptic who dreams of the mother who abandoned him, and Scott Favor, the wayward son of the mayor of Portland and the object of Mike's desire. Navigating a volatile world of junkies, thieves, and johns, Mike takes Scott on a quest along the grungy streets and open highways of the Pacific Northwest, in search of an elusive place called home. Visually dazzling and thematically groundbreaking, My Own Private Idaho is a deeply moving look at unrequited love and life on society's margins.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Criterion upgrades their previous DVD edition of Gus Van Santís My Own Private Idaho to Blu-ray, presenting the film in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc (it was presented in 1.78:1 on the DVD). The new high-definition transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz and comes from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative (the DVD was a high-definition scan of an interpositive).

The improvement over the previous DVD is tremendous and certainly noticeable: detail has been amplified quite a bit and the opening shots featuring Phoenix against a never ending landscape are impressive and immersive, delivering fantastic depth. Details on close-ups are far clearer, and textures also come through far better. Compression is more of a noticeable problem on the DVD now but with this new high-definition delivery that is mostly gone. The image is far more clean and stable, even nicely rendering film grain, which is fairly fine but noticeable and cleanly rendered for the most part.

Colours do appear to be significantly cooler here in comparison to the DVD: the DVDís colours definitely lean more on the yellow side but theyíre maybe a little more on the blue side here, though honestly seems to better suit the film and its Pacific Northwest setting. Other than that I found colour saturation to be better, with reds getting a noticeably richer boost, despite the generally cooler look. Black levels seem pretty good with a little crushing in darker scenes, but theyíre otherwise nice and inky.

Print damage isnít a major concern, though some minor marks remain. An opening sequence which cuts to a barn dropping to the road (hard to explain) has a large scratch in the center of the screen. According to Van Sant in an interview (which was included on the DVD but not the Blu-rayómore on this later) this was not intentional but they were unable to remove it, at least back in the day. They also tried reshooting the scene but this take was the best. Iím assuming it could be possibly removed now but Iím going to wager a guess heís grown accustomed to it. There were also some minor specs in a few other places but theyíre fairly infrequent.

The digital transfer itself is fine and mostly clean, though a handful of darker scenes, primarily set around the tenement house, can look a little noisy and thereís one close-up of Reeveís face (when his character is talking to Bob about his future plans) which looks a little odd, but otherwise I found the image to be fairly filmic in look.

Despite any issues remaining Iím very happy with how this has turned out. Itís a marked improvement over the old DVD and certainly offers the best presentation of the film Iíve seen yet.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Criterion includes the original 2.0 surround track and a remixed 5.1 surround track, both presented in DTS-HD MA. Both tracks are fine, though I might lean more towards the 5.1 track. Dialogue is clear for the most part, with a few parts coming off a bit muffled, primarily in the tenement sequences and that may have more to do with shooting conditions. Music sounds clear, and range is superb.

If I lean towards the 5.1 track itís that I found fidelity a tiny bit better and the track a little crisper, particularly in dialogue. I also found bass was better managed and not as heavy. The surrounds are actually quite active in both tracks, from music to effects, but the trippy aural effects that occur during the moments Mike is about to pass out are a bit more creative in the 5.1 track, with noticeable direction, particularly in breezes and the various thunderclaps that appear. Overall both are pleasingly effective tracks and it will come down to personal preference.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion carries over everything from the DVD, for the most part. The oddest alteration to this edition is how it handles the conversation between directors Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes. It was recorded for the original DVD edition and I suspect it may have been originally envisioned as an audio commentary since itís obvious the two are actually watching the film while talking about it. This may have been abandoned because the audio interview ends up running longer than the film: it runs 124-minutes while the film only runs 104-minutes.

It was a great supplement, a packed and rather entertaining conversation about the ins and outs of the film. But whatís odd about its transition to Blu-ray is that Criterion has cut it down, significantly. From 124-minutes it has been cut down to 56-minutes, more than half of it gone, and sadly there is still dead space. The editing job is fairly odd, too, making frequent trims here and there, even cutting out the middle of sentences while leaving the ends. Some parts of the discussion have also been moved around so the discussion doesnít follow the same order.

The conversation now focuses primarily on the shoot and the actors, Phoenix and Reeves in particular, with a little snippet of their original discussion about William Richert still showing up along with stories about Udo Kier. Thereís also a lot about some of the improvisation and blocking, the freeze frame sex scenes, and even the use of The Simpsons. Frustratingly some great material about developing the story, research, shopping the script around, and what followed when the film was released has been excised. Also excised is a great bit of information (which actually opened the DVDís feature) about the barn dropping sequence.

A lot of interesting material was cut and itís an odd choice on Criterionís part. It would probably have made more sense to cut it down to commentary track length and play it over the film if they were trying to figure out a better mode of delivery. True, the original presentation lacked flair: it was just audio over a menu screen with chapter stops. Here they edit it to clips from the film, as well as set photos and photos of materials used for research, so it has been jazzed up a bit and probably more interesting from a visual perspective, but there was more great material to be found. Ultimately itís still a good discussion but itís a shadow of its former self.

Making it over in its entirety from the DVD is the same 41-minute documentary aptly titled The Making of My Own Private Idaho. Here we get Production Designer David Brisben and the directors of photography Eric Alan Edwards and John Campbell, talking about the production. It is just the three talking-heads chatting about their experience in making the film (with photos and scenes thrown in for good measure) from Gus getting the money for it to the editing process, and slightly on its acceptance when released. The best part of the doc was when it covered how the Magazine rack sequence was done, which is more interesting and innovative than any CGI effect. It does cover material cut out of the original audio interview (maybe Criterion was trying to tone down any repetitive details?) and gives a better idea as to how difficult it was to make the film (though I still think the original, uncut audio interview with Van Sant did this better) but itís still a fairly bland talking-heads feature that can be a little hard to get through.

Another little documentary called Kings of the Road is included, which is a 45-minute feature that looks at how the film fits into Van Santís filmography while also deconstructing the various genres the film covers, from buddy picture to western to road movie to Shakespeare, the latter of which may actually be more of a homage to Orson Wellesí Chimes at Midnight. He expands on these by giving historical and contextual references. It's hosted by Paul Arthur and though it can be a bit dry there are still some interesting observations and comments, particularly about what Van Sant was going for and his stylistic choices. For those that are just coming to the film for the first time and arenít sure what you just saw itís a great little primer and offers a nice little analytical aspect to the release.

An interview between producer Laurie Parker and River's sister, Rain is up next. The 19-minute interview is all about River Phoenix and what he was like as an actor and a person, with Parker probably taking up more of the airtime talking about working with him on the film. Disappointingly Rain doesnít have as much to offer about her brother but shares stories about him. Together we get a decent painting of what the actor was like both personally and professionally.

The final piece is an audio conversation between writer J.T. LeRoy and filmmaker Jonathan Caouette. It should be noted that shortly after the original DVD was released it came out that LeRoy didnít actually exist. LeRoy was the product of writer Laura Albertís imagination: JT LeRoy was nothing but a pseudonym and Albert even took it as far as hiring an actor to play LeRoy. I suspect weíre actually getting Albert here in character. Criterion has updated their notes to reflect this but the 53-minute supplement is still here in its entirety but slightly questionable at best, since LeRoy isnít real and any experiences he/she brings to the table are not personal.

LeRoy/Albert actually worked close with Van Sant (who even worked from his/her script for Elephant) and Van Sant had actually helped finance one of Caouetteís films. They discuss the film and how it inspired/affected them and also about the life it depicts, sharing anecdotes and experiences from their own lives (at least on Caouetteís side) on the streets, and eventually Van Sant is brought into the mix through a call to talk about the film and shooting it.

Iím assuming Criterion wanted to bring in a firsthand account about street hustlers and I of course appreciate this. Though Caouetteís comments still ring true, LeRoy/Albertís comments are dubious at best as you canít take anything he/she says at face value (any experiences are made up) and it really makes the supplement a waste of time, especially since (the persona of) LeRoy is one of the least interesting speakers Iíve come across. I almost feel Criterion should have replaced the feature or at least trimmed this one down instead of the excellent Haynes/Van Sant interview.

After this we then get 6 deleted scenes. I actually liked the 6 scenes, though I can see why they were cut. In most cases it would have been pacing (especially the extended bit with Bob and Scott). In one other case I figure Van Sant cut the scene to leave the ending open (one of the deleted scenes answers who picks up Mike off of the road at the end.) Missing from here is 10-second clip of the barn dropping scene with the scratch. He mentions this in the interview on the DVD but that comment was excised on the one here, so I guess there was no point in including it again. The deleted scenes run over 11-minutes.

The disc closes with the filmís theatrical trailer, which is upscaled from standard-definition.

Criterion does port the thick 60-page booklet over, and it includes everything found in that booklet, right down the photos and collages. Inside you'll find an essay on the film by Amy Taubin. There is an essay by J.T. LeRoy/Laura Albert (apparently about the impact the film had, though again, this is all questionable now since LeRoy wasnít real), a reprint of an article from the set of the film by Lance Loud, an interview with Gus van Sant by River Phoenix, an interview with Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, and a whole lot of photos. It's a fantastic booklet still and I'm very happy Criterion didnít dump it. Because of the booklet Criterion keeps the basic design of the DVD packaging in place with a sharp looking and sturdy digipak.

Though there is some decent material Iím sadly still underwhelmed by the supplements as a whole, especially since one, the best one from the DVD, was cut down severely. Itís also disappointing Criterion didnít update any of the material, replace the LeRoy materiel, or try to get new interviews (itís possible Reeves may be hard to get to participate for stuff like this but his absence is no less disappointing). A letdown.

6/10

CLOSING

The supplements were always fairly average for me on the whole, but theyíre even more disappointing here since the best feature on the DVD has been edited down severely, more than half of it cut off. Still, the new audio/video presentation does offer a significant improvement over the DVD and itís worth picking up for that. But you may want to hold on to the DVD, if you already have it, just to hold on to the original Van Sant/Haynes interview.


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